Niger: Whose Imperialism?

On July 26th, Abdourahamane Tchiani led a military takeover of Niger, ousting former President Mohamed Bazoum and placing him under house arrest. The new regime moved quickly under an anti-French sentiment, announcing withdrawals from military agreements with France, following behind marches of thousands of Nigeriens and the M62 Movement, an anti-French activist group.(1) The escalating protests eventually culminated in the total withdrawal of French troops. At the same time, the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) has threatened invasion, stating that unless Bazoum is reinstated and a transition to ‘democracy’ is assured, the bloc will intervene. The current crisis is far from a localized battle against colonial powers. Rather, it is a symptom of a general escalation towards war across the world, one that directly concerns the working class. As the war in Ukraine continues, and the Israel-Palestine conflict continues to degenerate, Niger is poised to open a new front where regional powers and eventually global imperialist blocs would unleash new atrocities upon the class as a response to the dying order of capital.

Niger is one of many countries in the Sahel, the stretch of land below the Sahara, that has been experiencing military coups. Mali,(2) Guinea,(3) Burkina Faso,(4) and Gabon(5) form a string of junta regimes in the region, in addition to the turbulent transition of power in Chad,(6) and separate but like the ongoing civil war in Sudan.(7) The violence in the Sahel comes out of ethnic and religious conflicts predating European expansion, but also facilitated by colonial policies based on ethnic marginalization, centered around but not confined to the Berbers and Islamic militias. In the modern day, these rivalries have been driven by competition for land, which has recently been worsened by the expansion of the Sahara due to climate change.(8) However, valuable resources such as gold and other metals are the real pillar of capital accumulation, trading hands across factions, from corrupt officials, to rebels, to the government – whoever can skim off the top of production if not seize mines outright.(9) This is particularly salient for Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, which are landlocked countries dependent on their neighbors for resource exports. For example, in 2021 gold accounted for 96.3% of all exports in Mali,(10) 85.3% of all exports for Burkina Faso,(11) and 71.4% of all exports in Niger.(12) The recent escalation in bloodshed maps almost perfectly to the changing value of gold on the international market, which has almost doubled in value since 2013.(13) It has proven especially lucrative for sanctioned regimes such as Russia, where gold is a valuable physical asset to buttress economic decline. These factors create a system of perverse economic incentives, where civil strife becomes inevitable.(14)

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the role of informal markets which are the key vector for economic power. Estimates for its size range from 20 to 65% across the Sahel.(15) Even when combatting various Berber and Islamist militias, official government policy is to fight on the cheap across the region.(16) The informal economy therefore provides the military with a means to amass their own resources to cover costs, which can spontaneously create a rival bourgeois bloc to oppose the government if one of the key resources in the market, such as gold, begins spiking in value. These rivalries between the government and the military are further emphasized by the fact that Western military operations often involve troops being trained by foreign officials. Far from being a revolutionary movement, military juntas are simply power grabs by aspiring bourgeoisie overlords. However, since their economic position is built on physical assets, which can be stolen, or suddenly change in value, no junta can last forever, and is therefore locked in an eternal war against other factions, such as government sympathisers, and the aforementioned Berber and Islamist militias. The fact that Mali and Burkina Faso endured repeat coups shows this very precarity of even a military dictatorship, and the guarantee of further civil strife.


How anti-colonial are the anti-colonialists?

Mali has shown the strongest pivot away from France following Operation Barkhane, by employing Russia’s Wagner group to effectively replace France, as a military ally.(17) Burkina Faso has been courting Russia diplomatically in the past year, even though the junta claims to be Sankarist and anti-colonialist. Niger is currently trailing behind, though with the signing of common security agreements and the withdrawal of both French and American troops, it is very likely that they will seek greater patronage from Russia as events progress. Opinion within these countries towards the juntas varies significantly. For example, Mali’s population was more mixed towards French presence during Operation Barkhane – agricultural workers in the North had a more favorable view of French intervention than the more urban workers in the South, due in large part to the difference in the visibility of the results of French operations.(18) Furthermore, a recurrent sign of these juntas is that they tend to be preceded by real social discontent.

For example, Mali’s coups were preceded by widespread discontent towards the previous ‘democratic’ president, Ibrahim Keita. Grievances included government corruption as well as the country’s poor economic performance in 2020, met by mass protests and teachers’ strikes.(19) In many ways, these grievances revealed the potential of a revolutionary situation, provided that the workers voicing these concerns could properly organize themselves beyond individual economic grievances into a clear political platform. However, the absence of revolutionary worker organisation went the way that many failed social movements do – a reactionary takeover of the reigns of power. The battle between the activist M5 Movement and the local military proved particularly tumultuous, resulting in two consecutive coups, the last of which took place in 2021 and represented the current regime. France withdrew promptly and declared its operations a failure after a series of diplomatic spats with Mali’s government.(20) Perhaps nowhere else is the reactionary character of the junta government clearer than the Moura massacre,(21) which reveals bourgeois-self-interest disguised with anti-colonialism to murder hundreds of workers.

Burkina Faso also played out its military junta in two parts like Mali, and the political program is built just as much on power consolidation. The junta of January 2022 was divided on the question of French influence, and ultimately failed to achieve its strategic objectives in the region, with increasing violence from rebel groups leading to a subsequent coup in September 2022. Like Mali, the juntas were riding off a wave of civil dissatisfaction towards the ‘democratic’ government’s failure to contain rebel violence. The current administration is led by Ibrahim Traore, who has been moving towards Russia diplomatically, reopening their embassy and pursuing military cooperation, though with no clear sign of Wagner yet.(22) Public opinion among Burkinabe remains mixed, with some seeing the coup as an act of desperation by the state in a rapidly devolving situation.(23) It is therefore no surprise that the junta in Niger is playing out in a similar fashion. In the absence of revolutionary working class organisation, real discontent finds its expression in opposing this or that imperialist power through the patronage of another. Even though protestors wave Russian flags, they are the ones marching to French military bases, with the junta following them, and wield the real possibility of rejecting bourgeois power in its totality. Until they do however, the military coup will continue leeching off of real social unrest to grab power for itself, as was the case in Mali and Burkina Faso.

The economic alliances

Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger were all couped by military experienced in Sahel operations, many of which worked with the US and France in international deployment. However, there is no concrete ideological vision for what the bloc plans for itself. To date, all three countries remain in the CFA franc zone, which keeps them monetarily dependent on France. The zone is a currency union, split into the West African and Central African currencies, which are pegged to the Euro, with member countries required to deposit half of their foreign exchange reserves with the French Treasury. Previous governments have stayed in the monetary union in part because it promised the stability of the French-European economy to be afforded to its former colonial subjects and therefore more ‘resistant’ to shocks from local markets. Attempts to leave the CFA franc have been difficult in large part because of a history of coups and assassinations such as Thomas Sankara’s death at the hands of Blaise Compare and Cote d’Ivoire collaborators in the 1980s in Burkina Faso, when the former was pursuing an autarkic policy between African states, away from French money. Furthermore, case studies such as Zimbabwe make local bourgeoisie skittish in delinking themselves from colonial money, further incentivising maintaining close cooperation. As a result, the CFA franc remains a significant aspect of politics and economics in Western and Central Africa, and an ongoing indicator of the real alliance between local bourgeoisie and France. It is therefore surprising that none of the three countries have made any motions away from the currency bloc given their political positions. Mali’s coup was the oldest of the three countries, and yet no concrete proposals have been made to divorce the country from the monetary union. The only alternative shepherded by the African bourgeoisie is offered by ECOWAS, which is set to compete with France’s proposal for a makeover of the CFA monetary union. Macron’s unveiling of the eco in 2019 is meant to replace the CFA franc and provide countries with more monetary autonomy, with the foreign reserve condition waived though nonetheless remaining a currency pegged to the Euro.(24) At the same time, ECOWAS proposed the ECO as a rival to this project, backed up by Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana’s significant stores of capital.(25) Yet ECOWAS has denounced every coup that has taken place within its sphere of power, regardless of its political flavor. As a result, the real economic anti-France leverage is found not in Mali, Burkina Faso, or Niger, but in the very regional bloc that is making plans to invade them.

As a result, the influence of ECOWAS as an autonomous actor should not be understated, nor should its regional ambitions. The leader of the intervention proposal is Nigeria, the economic and military leader of the bloc. Nigeria has been particularly bold in imposing sanctions, going as far as cutting electricity to Niger, which depends on its neighbor for up to 70% of its energy needs. This drastic cut-off has triggered widespread outages and worsening an escalating humanitarian crisis in Niger, demonstrating the extent to which Nigeria is willing to go to impose its rule of law.(26) Furthermore, Nigeria has long been a key fighting force in West Africa and a lynchpin of regional security, successfully deploying in a number of conflicts with the most recent being in The Gambia in 2017.(27) With escalating attacks from Boko Haram along its border to the North,(28) the Nigerian ruling classes grow increasingly impatient with threats to their holdings and investments, incentivizing invasion for a country that has exercised its localized imperialism under cooperation with global imperialist blocs. Of course, the degree to which President Tinubu fears a coup against his cabinet should not be understated either, as has been shown in the recent withdrawal of Nigerian ambassadors around the world. In addition, his tenure has been controversial – cutting fuel subsidies,(29) as well as transitioning Nigeria’s currency, the Naira, to a free-floating currency,(30) has shown him to be one of the most economically radical leaders in the region in recent history. The coups in the Sahel therefore present an excellent opportunity to resolve Nigeria’s internal economic and political crises through imperialism. As countries that formed the colonial periphery accumulate capital, they begin to expand and enter the competition at an international stage, creating greater demands for profit and leading to worsening crises that begin as localized phenomena, but integrate themselves into the global trend for the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. As Nigeria passes through this cycle, the tendency towards imperialism takes hold in a localized form, which will ultimately lead regional conflicts to be absorbed by one of the great imperialist blocs represented by the US-NATO bloc, and Russia. It is therefore a textbook example against ‘just wars’ as a progressive cause for workers – Nigeria is now a fully modern bourgeois state, and it too will lead its workers to tighten their belts and forward march. The coup in Niger is of course aware of this very real threat to its government, which is exactly why it has created a defense pact with the other two Sahel juntas – the seeds are fully sown for a bloody war in Western Africa.

24 December 2023




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(25) Perhaps nowhere else is the farcical competition between local and colonial bourgeoisie more obvious in that the two proposed currencies have the exact same name.






Wednesday, January 3, 2024